FIVE MINUTES FOR SCRIBING:
The Blues’ winless streak stretched to five games (0-2-3) Wednesday night in Los Angeles, with the Kings pouncing on the snoozing visitors for an early 3-0 lead.
Final score: 4-1.
Final verdict: “We were soft,” coach Craig Berube said.
Later, an irritated Berube added, “they were quicker than us, wanted it more in the first period. That’s the game.”
And: “They were more hungrier around our net than we were.”
Berube was right on all counts.
And he was right to assail his team’s effort.
We’ve talked a lot about the injuries that have chewed up the Blues’ roster. I think that, if anything, we’ve shown more than enough empathy. We understand that it hasn’t been easy for the Blues.
With so many key guys missing, the Blues were at a clear disadvantage. But they competed hard and did a respectable job of collecting points — compensating for their futility at home by getting excellent results on the road.
But the Blues are cracking now.
While injuries are obviously a factor, there’s no excuse for lazy, ambivalent play.
Some of their wounded are back in action, and others are on the way. The return of scorer Vladimir Tarasenko and center Tyler Bozak were supposed to replenish the personnel, provide a jolt of energy, and lift the morale. Teammates expressed excitement over the imminent restarts for their teammates.
Yeah. And for all of their chatter about being fired up by having Tarasenko with them again, the Blues haven’t won since he rejoined the lineup five games ago. And last night they lost to the Kings by three goals in Bozak’s comeback game.
Maybe the highly respected forward Jaden Schwartz (strained oblique), can reignite this stalled bunch when he resurfaces this weekend at San Jose. Center Robert Thomas (thumb) is getting closer. Unfortunately the player the Blues need most at full strength — defenseman Colton Parayko — is sidelined indefinitely with a bulging disk.
The Blues didn’t receive an immediate, anticipated spark after restoring Tarasenko and Bozak to the band. And that’s disappointing … so disappointing that Berube didn’t even bother to finesse his disgust over the LA no-show.
The Blues aren’t fully healthy, but that’s less of an excuse now. Why? Because they’re not fully engaged from a competitive-character standpoint.
Their foundational 5-on-5 game — aka The Berube Way — has collapsed. And yes, I have the receipts to show you.
In their last 19 games the Blues have been outscored 42-27 when competing at 5-on-5. That goal share, 39 percent, ranks 30th in the NHL over that time.
The Blues have a deficit in high-danger scoring chances over the last 19 games, ranking 28th with a 43.8% portion. (No surprise here, but opponents have outscored them 27-19 in high-danger opportunities through this disturbing phase.
During this 19-game lurch the Blues scored no 5-on-5 goals in seven contests, and mustered only one such goal in five others. That’s no more than one 5-on-5 goal in 12 of the last 19 games.
The Blues’ record in the 19 games is 7-8-4.
Accordingly, here is the points-percentage “standings” of West Division teams since Feb. 4:
- 1–Minnesota, .781
- 2–Vegas, .750
- 3–Colorado, .656
- 4–Los Angeles, .605
- 5–Arizona, .525
- 6–San Jose, .500
- 7–St. Louis, .474
- 8–Anaheim, .316
During the current 0-2-3 skid, the Blues have been outscored 7-4 in the first period, 7-3 in the third period, and 3-0 in overtime.
Let’s see …
–Slow starts … early deficits … climbing out of ditches.
–Late carelessness and mistakes … fading … failing to protect leads.
That doesn’t look like a winning formula to me.
It wasn’t this way during the early days of the season, especially when the Blues played at 5-on-5. In speeding out to a 7-2-1 start the Blues outscored opponents by a 29-16 margin, a goal share of 64.4% And the Blues had a 14-7 edge in high-danger area goals.
Since then the Blues have gone the wrong way.
Time to wake up, fellows … or you’ll miss the bus to the postseason.
TAKING A LOOK AT ANOTHER ISSUE:
And there’s another significant problem.
The Blues’ current cast of defensemen is faring poorly in the battle to own the space in front of the net, or win the scrums behind the goal.
When the Blues won the Stanley Cup in 2019, they lined up a wall of imposing defensemen. Just look at these heights:
- Colton Parayko, 6-6
- Jay Bouwmeester, 6-4
- Joel Edmundson, 6-4
- Robert Bortuzzo, 6-4
- Alex Pietrangelo, 6-3
- Carl Gunnarsson, 6-2
- Vince Dunn, 6-0
Except for Dunn, that’s a large security force. And talented! The STL defensemen played very well in the Blues’ 26-game postseason run to the Cup, combining for 11 goals and 47 assists and a collective plus-minus rating of +22.
That unit had multiple slick, skilled passers who fueled a speedy transition game to make the Blues a more dangerous and productive team offensively. That, in addition to all of the other tangible qualities they brought to the ice.
Moreover, the Bouwmeester-Parayko pairing famously shut down Boston’s top line in the Stanley Cup final; the domination was critical in the Blues’ success.
The Blues are much smaller on the blue line now.
Of the defensemen that gave the Blues such heft and reach during the Stanley Cup tournament, only Dunn and Bortuzzo remain active on the 2021 team.
Pietrangelo left as a free agent this past offseason. Bouwmeester had to retire after the 2019-20 season because of a life-threatening heart condition. Edmundson was traded before the start of last season. Gunnarsson (torn knee ligament) is gone for the remainder of this season.
Pararyko remains immobilized. For how long, well, who knows?
The Blues have some size back there with Bortuzzo (6-4), Niko Mikkola (6-4) and Marco Scandella (6-3.). But the rookie Mikkola lacks experience and hasn’t been very effective. Dunn plays soft. Justin Faulk and Torey Krug are good players — but they also stand 6-0 (Faulk) and 5-9 (Krug.)
These D-men can’t make themselves taller.
They can, however, make themselves tougher on the ice.
This isn’t the NBA. No one is asking these smallish defensemen to sky for a rebound, leap above the rim, or defend Giannis Antetokounmpo.
But the fellows can play with bigger hearts.
They certainly can compete harder.
That applies to all skaters on this team — not just the defensemen.
Thanks for reading …
Please check out Bernie’s sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen live online and download the Bernie Show podcast at 590thefan.com … the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.